Early season riding conditions can be very challenging. During the winter, a ton of grit and salt gets dumped on roads to keep them grippy and snow-free, and, come spring time, all of that stuff ends up in one place – the shoulder where you want to ride. Spring is also pothole season, as water seeps into cracks in the road and freezes overnight, opening up holes the size of the Grand Canyon on your favorite roads. There are a few simple bike handling tips to keep your skin off the road and your bike in one piece.
This seems obvious, but it is easy to forget in the middle of one of your favorite descents. Slower speeds mean more time to react to what is in front of you. Slow down well in advance of corners so you aren’t braking hard while turning – doing so increases the chance of losing traction.
Take your lane.
Most of the road grit accumulates on the shoulder of the road, and you can avoid this by moving out into the travel lanes. Be VERY careful when doing this – think ahead, and don’t try to move out in front of a line of cars just before your corner. Wait for a large gap in traffic, and move out well into the lane, so cars aren’t tempted to try and squeeze by you. On long, switchbacking descents, I will usually just stay in the travel lanes to avoid having to move back and forth.
Hitting a small patch of gravel or wet spot won’t necessarily cause you to crash. Overcorrecting for a small skid of your back tire will. Staying relaxed and confident will help you ride through small skids instead of tensing up and turning the small skid into a huge wipe-out. You can build this confidence through other types of cycling – mountain and cyclocross riding will both give you the experience of feeling your bike sliding through turns, which will help you become a more confident road rider.
Be it potholes, glass, or ice, there is a lot of stuff on the roads that you and your bike would rather avoid. Your first key to avoiding this nasty stuff is to look ahead – the earlier you see something, the easier it will be to avoid. When you know what you want to avoid, doing so requires a bit of practice. Anyone who has managed to hit the only pothole on a clear stretch of road knows what I am talking about – your bike will tend to go where you are looking. If you are looking at that one pothole, there is a good chance you are going to hit it. Instead, work on keeping your eyes focused on the clear path you want to take, and your bike will follow.
Sometimes, despite your proactive road reading and all of your best obstacle avoidance techniques, you just can’t ride around something. Often this has something to do with the 2 ton hunks of metal passing by on your left. This is when the bunny-hop comes in handy. Bunny-hopping is like jumping on your bike – both wheels lift off the ground for a split second. If you have never done this before, practice at slow speeds first. Clipless pedals make it much much easier and safer as well. When you do encounter something you can’t ride around, don’t try to jump too high – for potholes, your wheels barely need to leave the ground.
Keep these tips in mind when you head out on your next ride, and you will be well equipped to deal with whatever the spring roads will throw at you!